I have wanted to visit Polpo for some time since I first saw it's little sister, Da Polpo in Covent Garden. It's a funny little place that looks like it's only for the most high-fashion Londoners, but it's actually got an air of cool welcome. Russell Norman, the owner, is a fascinating man - go and google him.
His fantastic creation in the heart of London certainly fits with a couple of the definitions above No internal shell - the inside of Polpo is a vintage lover's haven with bare walls and purposefully rough and ready furniture. However, the sucker-bearing arms - yes, they drag you into this little haven with an air of fascination. It's not the warmest of welcomes, it's busy and I got the feeling you're meant to feel a little 'well, what are you doing here?' I think some people would be a little snobby about this but it doesn't bother me.
The rather unassuming exterior
We arrived and squeezed in at the bar. I'd booked a table, which you can only do at lunchtime. It's not a place for big groups and they say as much on their website - seating more than four people might be tricky. The tables are close together which gives a warm feeling, not like your fellow diners are looking over your shoulder. We were sat at the back on a high table - an excellent vantage point for the people watching.
The drinks are not overly cheap. £4 for a Birra Morretti that, even though it's The Scouse's favourite beer, seems a little overpriced for a bottle. I had a glass of Prosecco that was nice but I wouldn't have wanted more. I swiftly ordered a glass of the house white, something I never do as I pretend to be a wine snob. It's Polpo's own, a Pinot Bianco. I thought it was £6 for a glass, but that was large - my little cups were £3! Had I known, I would have drank considerably more. It was chilled and I thought it was more than drinkable.
The menu is your placemat so you have plenty of time to browse through it and then decide if you want something extra. We asked the waitress about what we should order and she recommended 2-3 dishes each. We got some cichetti first - tiny bites - to start us off. The arancini was amazing and my brother informs me his chopped liver crostini was fantastic too. I would recommend getting one per diner as it's not easy to share these.
Then we had a bit of a feast - we managed to order two dishes each, but I could have gone for a lot more. My favourite was the buffalo mozzarella with broad beans - it was the best mozzarella I've ever eaten and the salad was so tasty. I would also highly recommend the meatballs - The Scouse had lamb and mint and they smelt as good as they tasted. I really enjoyed the mackerel tartare too - way too much cucumber but once you got that out of the way, the fish was salty, citrusy and smooth. We had the meat platter to keep us going. The only thing we weren't impressed with was the scallops - very small and not many scallops, more pancetta and peas with the broth. Don't order this if you want big juicy scallops!
Unfortunately we didn't have dessert as we were nicely full - not bursting. I could have ordered 1-2 more plates between us three fattys! I shall be making sure I have room next time, especially as they have a cheese plate.
Russell Norman has just brought out the Polpo 'cookbook of sorts'. I can't wait to pour over it's pages - whether I can create the foody treats is another thing. The book looks beautiful.
This organisation will without doubt have far-reaching effects but they certainly won't be harmful. You should really go and you can find more information about the Polpo restaurants (certainly not a 'chain') here - polpo.co.uk. I've heard great things about Mishkin's, the older, more brash kosher brother, from my new favourite blogger Rosie The Londoner
Footnote: I've been back to Polpo since this visit. The welcome has far-improved (seems I wasn't the only one who mentioned it). We arrived at 7pm on a Saturday night to a bustling restaurant and a full bar area and were seated immediately. The service was impeccable and I think this might be one of the best places I've ever eaten. The menu has changed from the above but you must order the steak dish we had this time around (especially if it comes with truffle cream - get extra bread too). I hope to blog about the others in the Polpo family soon.
One more footnote: I am thrilled that Russell Norman read this blog when I tweeted him about it. Just wanted to boast a little.